Happy Easter

21 Apr

Happy Easter to all my readers and followers wherever you are in the world!

It seems like this Lenten time has gone quicker than ever before and this year is going even quicker. I did manage to keep my Lenten promise of exercising or doing something to benefit my health each day. I have been struggling with a very bad cold this week but I still managed to wrap myself up warm and get out of the house of a 30 minute walk around the village.

I feel quite proud of myself that I managed to keep my promise. There were many occassions when I really didn’t want to get my trainer on or get the bike out and go for a ride but I managed to and, despite the cold that I has completely knocked me for six, I feel a lot better for it. In the beginning it was hard but once it becomes a routine it becomes easier, mentally and physically. Now I am in the routine, I’m determined to keep going with my daily goal of doing something every day to improve my health and fitness. First I will make sure that I am fully recovered from this awful cold.

I will be spending the next few days relaxing and eating chocolate. I hope that you will also be enjoying your time with family and friends.

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Netball in Copenhagen

17 Apr

I’m just about fully recovered from a weekend in Copenhagen playing netball with Zürich Netball Club, who I decided to join in January. I worked out that it had been almost 15 years since I had been on a netball tour which is one of the scariest things that I have heard in a long time.

We arrived at the hotel with the news that they had overbooked the twin beds in the hotel so we had to make do with double beds. This was slightly daunting considering that some of us didn’t know each other well. There wasn’t a great deal that we could do about it and I was so tired I could have slept standing up in a broom cupboard.

On the Saturday we headed to the venue. The hall was packed with teams from Sweden, Holland, France and Germany. It was a mixed tournament so it wasn’t a surprise to see a few men there but we were the only team to only have women playing. I know from experience that its not always an advantage to have men on a netball team but it would turn out that these men had played before and were pretty handy on the court.

The tournament was opened by Zindyi Mandela, the South Africa ambassdor in Denmark, who I later found out was the daughter of Nelson and Winnie Mandela. She gave a great speech about how important it is for women to be involved in team sport. How amazing is it that she took the time out of her day to come and wish a group of expats all the best for the day!

I had completely forgotten how physically demanding a sport netball is. Playing competitively is so different to training with your team mates. My legs were almost dead after the first few games. Luckily the organisers provided snacks and cake to help with blood sugar levels.

We played 8 games in total and, although we didn’t end up winning the competition, the games that we did lose were by very small margins. After the prize giving we headed back to the hotel for a quick shower and change before a buffet dinner at a local restaurant with the other teams and then onto a trendy cocktail bar called Curfew for some celebratory drinks.

I woke up the next day still shattered which is yet another reminder that I need to improve my fitness. I could barely walk up stairs for the next few days. After a late-ish breakfast we went on a free walking tour, visited The Little Mermaid Statue and headed back to the airport.

Thank you to my team mates Claudia, Lauren, Lorna, Kim, Arran, Abby, Chelsea, Emma and Konio for a great weekend of netball and for such a great time. I’m hoping for an equally great weekend in another European city with the girls soon!

40 Before 40 – Challenge #26 update

7 Apr

This is possibly one of the most fun challenges that I chose for my 40 Before 40 list of challenges. I am going to learn 40 different origami designs.

I must say that some of the designs are a lot harder to make than they look. I did start making a butterfly and gave up because I got completely lost about what I should fold where. I might come back to it later and try again because I don’t like to be defeated by something that seems so simple. I haven’t been

In a strange way I have found it quite relaxing. It’s very satisfying to take a piece of paper and turn it into something different entirely. It tends not to take very long as well which means the satisfaction is immediate. I have noticed though that it is incredibly difficult to fold a piece of paper exactly in half so that all of the sides are in line. If you don’t believe me try it yourself. Perhaps it’s just me.

Here are the first ten of the origami designs that I have made. In case you don’t see the connection (!), all of the designs are animals.

  • cat
  • dog
  • fish
  • shark
  • pig
  • rabbit (I think it looks more like a kangaroo)
  • frog
  • fox
  • turtle
  • crab

Here are the photos as evidence. Are they good enough that you can which animals are in each photo?

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Fast approaching Easter

3 Apr

With only a few weeks until Easter, I am on track to complete my Lenten promise which was to be active every day. Lent is 40 days long which means that technically Sundays don’t count – if you include the Sundays in Lent there are 44 days. I have been keeping fit on Sundays even though I could have been having a rest. The weather has been good so it makes sense to get out when possible.

So far I have been combining running, cycling, netball and doing core strength exercises. I have started to notice that my stamina and endurance is increasing and I’m feeling more confident. However, I haven’t been able to lose any weight which is disappointing because that would be a nice side effect.

I must admit that I prefer to get out on the bike or put my trainers on and go running rather than doing core strength exercises. Even though it doesn’t take as long (there is no way that I can do more than 15 minutes of planks, sit ups, push ups etc) I really hate it. I can tell that it is having a positive impact on my running, cycling and my endurance in general but I just don’t like doing them. We also do these exercises at the end of a netball practice and I hate it with a passion.

Over the last 29 days, I have run or biked a total of 105 kilometers or 65 miles as well as taking part in 5 netball sessions and 6 sessions of core strength exercises. I’m pleased with that. It’s certainly not the longest ever run or biked but my knee is holding up. This time last year I was barely able to limp around 2 kilometers twice in one week. This is definitely progress!

It is often said that it takes 30 days to form a habit so I hope even when the next two weeks are over that I am able to continue with my exercise habit. I might not have time to go as often but even being active four or five times a week would be great. If the weather stays nice then I will have no excuse!

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Challenge #29 – Update

27 Mar

From the list of The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read, I have now read 33 of the books. This year I have had another good start to my reading year and being able to read some books and authors that I haven’t heard of before has helped.

The majority of these books have been so good that I have hardly been able to put them down for a break and I have noticed that I have been forgoing watching TV so that I can get through the books even faster.

With only 7 more books to go until I can cross this challenge off my list, you might think that it will only be a few more weeks before I am declaring that this challenge is complete. However, I seem to have unintentionally left the longer books until the end and there is a book on the list that I have begun but abandoned because I found it too boring. So, this might be a tricky one to complete.

Here are the books from the list that I have recently read:

Notes on a Scandal: What was she thinking? by Zoe Heller

I couldn’t put this book down and I read it in a few hours. It’s the story of a female teacher who has a relationship with a pupil. The story is told from the point of view of a fellow teacher and the confident of the teacher who has the affair. I would say that the reader learns a lot more about the person narrating the story rather than the details of the affair – her motives and interest in the story is slowly revealed as the story progresses.

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

I didn’t realise that this book had been made into a film until after I had read it. The book tells the story of a girl nicknamed Bone and her relationship with her mother and step-father. Her relationship with her step-father is abusive and her mother struggles to admit that there is a problem that needs to be solve. The ending was very emotional and I also found it confusing – the resolution was not what I expected to happen.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

This book was slightly odd. It starts off by the three main characters reminiscing about an event from the past and then the book switches to a third person narrator. The main character is suffering from a mental breakdown but it doesn’t become clear until later in the book what brought on this breakdown. There is also talk of her daughter who seems to have been taken from her because of health issues but these aren’t discussed or explained in detail. I thought the book had a dream-like quality about it – some parts of it didn’t seem real and I’m not clear about how or why some of the events described happened. It was a confusing read.

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

This is the story of two Native American families over a number of decades and how their lives are affected by one another. The chapters are each told by different characters during different years. It’s interesting to see how one character views events differently to others. You feel involved in the story because the whole book has a conversational style about it – as if you are just sat down having a coffee with someone and they are telling you a story. There is also a complicated love triangle between the two families which makes the story a bit juicier but also brings sadness to the story as well.

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

This was an historic novel that is based on the life of Friedrich von Hardenberg (I haven’t heard of him before either). In the story Friedrich falls in love with a girl, who is lower than his social class but he intends to marry her anyway. I was glad that I can speak German because there were quite a few German phases or words used in the book. I got annoyed reading another book recently that was set in France and had some French words that weren’t translated. It was possible to work out what they meant from the context but it could have been that I misinterpreted them.

The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

This is the story of a young, privileged woman called Lily Bart, who lives in New York at the turn of the century. She likes to gamble and gets into a lot of debt and these debts force her to make decisions that make her situation, relationship and life even worse. I liked the main character and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her; everything she tries to do to make her life better end up backfiring and people are not kind to her and believe malicious rumours. I did take a lot time to enjoy this book. I felt like the story was slightly boring in the beginning. It was only in the second half when things start to get worse and worse that I wanted to read quicker to find out what was going to happen to her.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Even at the very start of this book, I knew I was reading something that was going to be epic. The book starts with the narrator, Richard Papin, revealing that because the snow came down the police didn’t find the body of his college classmate for ten days. What a way to start a story! I was hooked straight away. The book is his recollection of the events that led up to that point, from how he ended up choosing that college, how he ended up being accepted into a strange group within the university. It was a long book but I couldn’t put it down. The ending was unexpected as well.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

This book has such a sad ending. It tells the story of Edna Pontellier who realises that she is in love with a man who is not her husband. She struggles with being a wife and a mother and doesn’t have any interest in raising her own children. It is clear that the man she is in love with has the same feeling about her but they are both trapped because of the norms of society. I realised a few pages from the end what was going to be the outcome but it did make it any less upsetting.

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Practising for Masterchef

24 Mar

Recently I’ve been joking that I am going to apply for Masterchef. I say it every year when I get swept away watching episode and episode and spend most of the evening salivating at what the contestants have managed to cook up. I didn’t expect that last night when I had been invited to a cat’s first birthday (yes, a cat not a human called Cat) that I would be able to get some practice in.

I was suspicious when I arrived when the table was covered in a cloth and there didn’t seem to be a lot going on in the kitchen in terms of food preparation for the invited guests. Soon the plan for the evening was revealed.

First we selected at random our cat ears in keeping with the party theme. I ended up with black ears and also a bow tie and a tail. Then we were told that we would be helping to make the meal for the evening. There was a twist though. We would be cooking in a relay and we weren’t allowed to talk to the next person who was taking over the cooking. This is one of my favourite challenges on Masterchef because it means you have to think on your feet. Every one had 13 minutes to cook and then they had to leave the kitchen for someone else to take over. The items that we used to cook had to be bought from the market and we weren’t allowed to spend more than 40 CHF in total, which is a big ask in Switzerland.

As if this wasn’t tricky enough our host threw in some wild cards. The actions on the cards had to be performed during your allotted time in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I had bad luck with my card – I would only be able to cook for 10 minutes. Those who were not cooking had to stay in the “cat den”, also known as the guest bedroom, which was decorated and had lots of cat themed games to play while we were waiting for our turn.

When it came to my turn I was overwhelmed. I was the fourth cook out of 6. Things were already in the oven and the majority of the budget had been spent. I realised that the person before me wanted me to boil potatoes because some were washed in the sink and there was a pan of boiling water on the stove. I did that and then bought some pak choi from the market. I knew I didn’t have time to cook it but I washed it and left it so that the next cook would hopefully see what I intended. With time rapidly running out, I decided to make some cocktails but I only had time to splash some rum in the glasses before the timer went off.

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By now I was hungry but only two more people were left to cook so there wasn’t long to wait. The clock buzzed for the last time and we were ready to eat. There was food to eat but it wasn’t very cohesive. We ended up with:

  • two chicken breast stuffed with mozzealla;
  • roasted vegetables (which was intended to be blended into a soup but no one realised –  we made the soup quickly later);
  • a mushroom cream sauce;
  • pak choi cooked with a chilli sauce;
  • 2 kg of potatoes;
  • 3 kg of spaghetti (courtesy of Araz who didn’t see the potatoes already cooking, panicked and decided to cook all of the pasta as well)
  • one portion of cat food.

I was criticised for buying the cat food because it was sold in the market for an inflated price and actually devoured 25% of our total budget. But the birthday boy had to eat so I thought it was more than reasonable. In all the excitement I had forgotten about the part about us having a strict budget. Admittedly, a poor show from the only qualified accountant in the room. But Araz played a wildcard to strike my (*cat pun alert*) purr choice from the budget when she was allowed to delete one bought item from the list, so we ended up spending 35.20 CHF.

The food wasn’t bad considering we had come over to celebrate a birthday and found ourselves chopping and dicing things in a mad panic in a kitchen that we’re not familiar with. And no one can say that there wasn’t enough carbohydrates on the table!

Luckily dessert had been made in advance and we were able to tuck into a delicious chocolate and strawberry cat cake made by the original star baker, Stefan. The sparkler on the top of the cake was impressive as well.

Thank you to Mark and Stefan for hosting the event, coming up with such a great evening of original and fun entertainment and allowing me use of their photos, my fellow cooks (Araz, Jana and Stefano) for not poisoning me and, of course, Macka for the invitation to his celebrations.

As for my application to Masterchef, I think I need more practice before sending it in!

Writing Progress

20 Mar

Earlier on this year, I decided to stop making excuses and sit down and write a book. This is something that I have wanted to do for a long time but I have always come up with reasons as to why I can’t or shouldn’t attempt it. I feel like the time is right at the moment to put my efforts into a project this size.

I decided to make the first draft on paper which might seem a bit old fashioned. I do feel like a dinosaur when all of the other members of the writing group furiously typing away on their brand new Macs and I’m fumbling around in the bottom of my rucksack trying to find a pen that works. I realised recently that 98% of the short stories and work that I have tried to do on a computer have remained half finished and my theory is that writing a first draft on a computer stifles my creativity. I have no evidence at all for this theory but I think that there is a ring of truth to it. I’m not sure if this is connected to the fact that I wrote stories by hand in English when I was at school and I have it in my head that that is the correct way to do it.

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I started off with a rough idea in my head about what I wanted the story to be about. So I just started writing. I wanted to get into a habit and write something every day if possible. It isn’t a hard habit to keep especially if you dedicate set hours each day to it. I guess it’s like watching a soap opera every day of the week at 7pm – once you expect to do it every day it just naturally happens.

As I was writing lots more ideas popped into my head and I became bombarded by ways I could improve things I had already written and how I could develop the back story of the characters more. I was so tempted to start the story again adding in the bits that I thought would make the story better. I wasn’t sure if this was the correct approach though. I asked the members of the writing group what they did – did they start to re-write the story as they went along or was it more useful to keep on writing until the end and then go back to add improvements?

The overwhelming answer was to keep on writing. One member of the group said that she had gone back to make improvements as she was writing and she hasn’t made any progress on the book as a whole because nothing that she ever writes seems perfect enough. I think this is also one of the reasons why I have found it problematic to finish even shorter pieces of writing; I get stuck on one bit where the writing doesn’t flow properly or I can’t think of the right words to express what I want to say. In the end I just give up because I can’t work out a way to progress.

So, I carried on regardless, knowing that some of the writing was awful (and some of it truly is) and that there were characters needed to be developed, specific descriptions that needed to be worked on and many other things. I made of list of things that I needed to address as they came into my mind. Things like: is the character’s reaction believable? Does it make sense that this person would live in this community or this style of housing? The more you think about it, the more it makes you crazy. By having a list, I hoped that it would be easier to come back to my original ideas later.

I finished my first draft two weeks ago. It is a very rough draft. I have a good outline of the story. Some parts make more sense than others, some are much better written than others. But it’s written. People often say that no one ever writes a good first draft and I certainly wasn’t going to disprove that.

I left it a few weeks so that I could forget about what I had written and come back to it with fresh eyes as I begin to type the manuscript onto the computer as I attempt to improve it and make it readable for an audience. I have found that as I improve something in one part of the story that I have to change or improve something in another part to make the story make sense. It’s very much a work in progress. I realise that I am at the start of a very long journey. I have, for example, started another list of things to consider and improve for the next draft version!

Like before, I am trying to write a bit each day. This time around I am making a conscious effort to make sure that what I am writing is good rather than just trying to get words down on a page. It seems to be working so far.

I have no idea how long it will take me to finish the second draft. Or the third. Or even the fourth but I am finally making some progress at last. I will, of course, let you know how I am progressing…

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